Editor’s note: This story was originally published March 8, 1998
The interview covered old ground he has often talked about —the end of the world and aliens bent on torturing him to death —when all of a sudden Rodney Woidtke blurted, “I may have actually saw her.”
Woidtke, 37, was talking about Audrey Cardenas, the 24-year-old Belleville News-Democrat reporting intern he was convicted in 1989 of murdering, but has claimed to have never laid eyes on.
Woidtke, who is serving 45 years for Cardenas’ murder, has steadfastly maintained his innocence and always insisted he had never seen Cardenas.
But for some reason, Woidtke has changed his story — he didn’t kill her but he did see her.
The interview was Feb. 25 at Dixon Correctional Center, about 100 miles west of Chicago.
“This is the first time I’ve ever mentioned this to anybody,” said Woidtke, his handcuffed hands folded on the table in front of him. The handcuffs were chained to a leather belt at his waist.
Woidtke said that about June 19, 1988, he had, after all, seen Cardenas. He said she was washing her truck outside her Belleville apartment on North Charles Street wearing shorts and a blouse.
“I seen this young woman who was washing her car. She was just cleaning off her car to get the water off or something. And it matched her description.”
Like other prison interviews the News-Democrat has conducted with Woidtke, including two lengthy sessions during 1995 at Menard Penitentiary in Chester, he had jumped from topic to topic, speaking in a monotone.
But this seemed different. His voice rose, and his face seemed to show excitement.
Woidtke said the recollection of seeing Cardenas came to him gradually while he was at Menard. He said he didn’t know why he was telling this to a reporter, who had asked him a question on an entirely different subject.
“I was sick. I had just left Main Street. I was going out looking for a field because I had to defecate. I had diarrhea because I was eating out of dumpsters. And I seen this young woman, washing her truck. That’s the only time. I was surprised. After I was convicted and was at Menard I was thinking about it, and I remembered that was the first time I could’ve seen her. I think it was her.”
This corresponds to what several witnesses told police, that Cardenas was washing her gray Mazda pickup sometime in the afternoon. But they said the date was June 19, the day police believe she was murdered on the grounds of Belleville East High School.
Woidtke looked much as he did the day he was arrested after crossing a police line near where Cardenas’ body was found. His dark hair showed only a few flecks of gray.
Wearing a bright yellow jump suit reserved for prisoners confined to the segregation unit of the prison’s mental ward, Woidtke sat calmly, his feet shackled. A counselor from the prison staff sat at the same table.
Woidtke, a paranoid schizophrenic who alternates between taking drugs to control his condition and refusing medication, said he has no plan for the future.
His appeals ran out years ago. Woidtke is not eligible for supervised release until he serves half his sentence, minus 180 days, about 13 years from now.
He rarely gets visitors. Recently he was allowed to use a small black and white television in his cell.
On Dec. 10, 1997, Woidtke tried to kill himself by taking pills he had hoarded, and was hospitalized for two days in Dixon.
“Well, it was because of the aliens,” Woidtke said. “It’s kind of like the fulfillment of the prophecy of God, the end of the world. If I continue living, they might make me an immortal and throw me in hell or boiling water, and I’d be there forever. If I kill myself, I’ll die a peaceful death and won’t suffer.”
At the talk of suicide, the counselor stopped taking notes and looked up, but Woidtke talked about killing himself as if he were talking about the weather.
He had been planning to kill himself before the attempt in December, he said.
“I ripped up an old sheet. I was going to hang myself. I was trying to look for a quick way out, you know, because if this was the end of the world, why would I want to wait?”
Woidtke said he hasn’t been outdoors in months, and has been out of his cell only twice in six months. In segregation, he is confined 23 hours every day in his cell except for an optional hour of exercise.
He was placed in the disciplinary section of “X” House, or the mental ward, because he was caught carrying a plastic toothbrush sharpened on one end to form a weapon.
“When I first got here I thought I was just gonna walk right out of prison,” he said.
“I was getting bold and confident because God was on my side. He would just let me walk out and when I got on the street I would need a weapon to defend myself. So, I had the toothbrush.”